PUBLICATION EXPECTED IN 2021
A Trans Feminist’s Past
Forest Handford was brought up male but never felt comfortable with that gender. As early as preschool, it was clear that she had interests and habits that were considered feminine. While Forest has supportive parents, they didn’t have the knowledge to alert them that she was transgender, a word that wasn’t even widely known until long after Forest was an adult.
What little information Forest found about being trans was misleading and harmful. The common narrative of trans folk in media was that they were repulsive, as shown in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective; psychotic, like Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, drag queens, like multiple characters in Rocky Horror Picture Show; a recurring punchline used for the feminist characters in Designing Women; or murder victims like Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry.
While Forest valued her first marriage, during that marriage, she couldn’t explore her femininity because of her spouse’s fear of being considered a lesbian. Despite agreeing to have a child with Forest, her first spouse resented the decision and it eventually led to divorce. Following the divorce, Forest began to add feminine clothes to her wardrobe but experienced two incidents of transphobia that pushed her back into the closet.
It took cosplaying her favourite Dr. Who character, Clara Oswald, in 2018 for her to find acceptance in feminine clothes. Forest soon discovered that she met the definition of transgender. For a short time, Forest considered herself genderfluid because she didn’t believe transition was possible due to misinformation she had been taught to believe. A non-binary friend of Forest’s mentioned that their therapist had recommended that they try hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Curious why a therapist would make such a recommendation, Forest did some research that revealed that not only was transition possible for her but that trying a small dose of HRT was a safe way to determine if it could help with her gender dysphoria.
While Forest’s second wife knew from the start of their relationship that Forest occasionally wore feminine clothing, it wasn’t clear to either of them until late in their marriage that Forest could, let alone would, transition. While the transition wasn’t the only reason for their divorce, it was a catalyst that caused Forest to spiral into a depression that almost ended in suicide.
Forest’s transition began when trans rights were under attack in her state of residence (Massachusetts). In 2018, Forest knew multiple trans folk who were fired due to their gender identity in Massachusetts. Forest had to balance her trans rights advocacy against her safety as a frequent business traveler to Egypt, where being LGBT comes with a 10-year prison sentence. She carefully planned her transition to begin with a period of being stateside such that she could come out a couple of months prior to the next time she would be expected in Egypt. Since that final trip, Forest cannot return until she either “passes” as a cisgender female or Egypt evolves.
Shortly after Forest came out publicly, a trans woman who had been Forest’s first trans friend, committed suicide. Forest writes about the devastation this caused for her. Forest has endured discrimination, harassment, and transphobia: but not one incident has been physically violent. Forest discusses her experience of sexual discrimination from an interviewer at Google that occurred in late 2018. That experience pushed her to create EmpEmp.org, a website to empower employees and candidates. She discusses the mental dangers she, like all trans people, face. She also discusses how her white privilege has protected her from the violence that trans women of colour face.
Forest’s memoir covers details of her life and the historical context in which it has been lived. Many of the stories in this book reveal the challenges of being feminine. While those challenges were painful, and some aspects of transitioning during her midlife were difficult, she values the views she has had on both sides of male privilege. She uses this rare perspective as an analogy for her understanding of white privilege.
Later chapters discuss the battles Forest has fought for her gender. She devotes multiple chapters to discussing her experience as a trans mother, which include her fears for her children and the pain of being a single mother. There is an entire chapter that delves into a brief relationship she had with a “trans attracted” man who acted as a cisgender saviour. Forest also discusses some of the gatekeeping she has experienced as a trans woman.
While many trans stories exist, Forest’s perspectives as an Eagle Scout, as somebody who lived in Egypt, and someone who transitioned while in a management position, bring new dimensions to the space, further illustrating that there is no single trans narrative.